ALL OF US experience days when we’re out running or riding or swimming and we just feel dead. The legs are heavy. Even the mind can feel like it’s sinking down into the abyss of the neck. We drag ourselves through a workout and slog through the shower. “Thank God,” we murmur to ourselves. “That almost killed me.”
Well, that’s the rhetorical version of being dead on your feet anyway.
This weekend I’ll be driving east to Cleveland to visit my son and attend a graduation party for my niece, who is graduating from high school and will play college volleyball with her sister before the older sibling graduates next year.
So the time is right to rally with family and get another job done in the process. My father passed away last October and by his own directives was cremated. The same thing took place in 2005 for my mother. It was my father’s wishes that they both be buried in a cemetery in Upstate New York, the region where they were both born and raised. So my brother who lives out east made a couple trips to the Bainbridge area to secure a beautiful spot on a hillside cemetery. My father and mother’s remains will be buried there.
On the way to Cleveland, I’m planning a little stop on the way to ride the Cuyahoga bike trail. I may ride thirty miles or so and jump off the bike for a run too. It looks like lovely territory for a workout and getting a taste for the natural areas of Ohio.
When I get back home there will be yet another matter of cremains to attend. I’ve had discussions with my late wife’s family and we’re considering a burial place for her with her father in the cemetery of the church where she was raised. She’d never really indicated any other plans beyond the directive to be cremated. It seems strange to say that we didn’t discuss ideas beyond that, but really her reticence was the product of her unwillingness to give into ovarian cancer, the disease that took her life three years ago.
I’ll confess to the fact that carrying all these remains around has had an effect on me. In some respects, it has fueled an ire. Life itself feels absurd in some ways. And politically, there’s almost no excuse for people to devalue others and to do the stupid things they do, including murder and the taking of life so casually or willingly.
All my life, from the youngest memories I have, there has always been a sensitivity to social justice in my soul. Even from my earliest years as a little kid I fought back against bullies and sometimes paid the price. But I don’t regret those fights, on the ones in which I engage to this day. I don’t think I’m wrong to do that, or to care so much.
I recall a period in the early 1980s when I was working hard to become an even better runner than I had been in college. The results came, but the drive was so deep within me that I was in some ways maniacally joyous and at the same time profoundly unhappy. The drive to do better fueled both emotions. That is life in a capsule if you ask me, and what remains for each of us to figure out whether the joy or the unhappiness is the true reality.
I am conscious of this duality every time I go for a run, ride a bike or slide into a pool. I am alive, therefore I do. It’s not much more complicated than that, and yet it means so much to be conscious and grateful for these or any abilities.
In this ashes to ashes world, the bridge between the simple act of being alive, which we too often take for granted, and the “I do” choices we make in our existence define our will to live, and how to do it best. What remains is history; be it personal, perpetual, or whatever we can make of it.